LONG POND, Pa. -- Joseph Mattioli sealed the deal to bring NASCAR to the Poconos over a plate of Southern fried chicken in 1972.
He then turned the popular honeymoon region into the heart of racing in the Northeast, bringing two Cup races a season to the 2½-mile triangle Pocono Raceway track nestled in the mountaintops.
After nearly 40 years of calling the shots, Mattioli decided to retire.
In an impromptu news conference Friday that caught his family and associates unaware, Mattioli decided the time was right to turn the day-to-day operations over to his three grandchildren.
Not much will really change. Brandon Igdalsky, his grandson, was already track president as Mattioli scaled back his duties in recent years and has added CEO to his title.
"Brandon is well-trained, and he knows the track like the back of his hand," Mattioli said. "He's well prepared to do the things that have to be done."
The 86-year-old Mattioli fought back tears Friday as he talked about his decision to step down. Mattioli was in a wheelchair and held his wife's hand. Mattioli was a former dentist and known around the sport as "Doc."
Mattioli said "it's about time that I got the hell out of here."
He surprised everyone, telling Igdalsky and track officials to meet in the media room. When spokesman Bob Pleban handed over the microphone, that's when Mattioli broke the news.
"We always thought this was something special," Mattioli said.
Mattioli remained a staunch defender of the 500-mile races and their place on the schedule even as critics bashed the length and the facilities. Mattioli and Igdalsky worked hard to address NASCAR's concerns: The track underwent a 10-year renovation in the 1990s, adding new crash walls, a garage area and 150-site motor home park.
Pocono recently completed a multimillion-dollar project that bolstered safety and included a soft-wall barrier and catch fence.
"For over four decades, Dr. Joe and Rose Mattioli have been a big part of NASCAR's success and their track has created many memories for our teams, drivers and fans," NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. "As the Mattiolis step away from the day-to-day operations at Pocono, we wish them all the best in retirement and extend our heartfelt gratitude for their many significant contributions to our sport."
Igdalsky, 35, started working at the track as a teenager picking trash and working at the sewer plant. He worked in nearly every department at the track as he worked his way up the company ladder.
He called his grandfather a visionary in the sport.
"He always told me, 'If you get bored with what you're doing, change what you're doing,'" Igdalsky said. "Don't let work be a four-letter word."
Igdalsky's brother, Nick, and sister, Ashley, received new titles.
"When I realized my three grandchildren are capable, I started thinking heavily about it," he said.
The family owns the track as Mattco Inc. Mattioli, and his wife, Rose, started the company with only $48, and it's now valued at around $600 million.
He always refused to listen to overtures to sell the track and said it will remain in the family.
The only time Mattioli considered selling Pocono was in the mid-70s when a CART-USAC spat led to financial trouble at the track.
Mattioli wanted to sell until he received a call from NASCAR patriarch Bill France Sr. The two met in New York and France tried to persuade Mattioli to ride out the downturn and keep the track.
France pulled out his business card and scribbled this message:
"On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones who when within the grasp of victory sat and waited and waiting died."
Blown up pictures of France Sr., his business card and the note hang in the media room dining area.
Mattioli kept the track and racing in the mountains.
Now, the next generation is set to carry on his legacy.